Sunday

5th Feb 2023

EU states stay mute on implementation of mercury bill

Twenty-five of the EU's 28 member states have neglected to inform the European Commission how they would punish breaches of a new EU regulation, which aims to limit the use of mercury, despite legal deadlines having passed.

Only Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom have sent the commission documents outlining the penalties related to the mercury regulation, the commission told EUobserver in response to an access to documents request.

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  • MEP Stefan Eck: 'They have no excuse at all for not complying' (Photo: European Parliament)

"Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin, so it's essential that this regulation is properly enforced to help protect people and the environment from its harmful effects," said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, project manager of the European Environmental Bureau's 'Zero Mercury Campaign'.

The chemical element mercury, also known as quicksilver, is highly toxic.

Minimising the release of mercury into the environment and, where possible, eliminating its use, has been an EU goal since 2005.

Last year, the EU adopted a new regulation on mercury, which includes rules on its use for a variety of sectors - from dentistry to industrial processes.

In the EU, mercury is most often used in dental amalgam, and the bloc had agreed to limit its use.

The legislation requires that, as of next year, dentists only use encapsulated dental amalgam.

Other requirements for the use of mercury, such as an industrial use, have already gone into force on 1 January 2018.

The national governments have committed, by adopting the regulation, to notifying the EU commission of which penalties they have for infringement of the provisions. They promised to inform the commission of those penalties by the time the respective provisions came into force.

"European governments must have appropriate penalties in place for when rules are broken," campaigner Lymberidi-Settimo told EUobserver.

"It's disappointing that so many governments appear to be failing to implement measures they have signed up for and that they know will be effective in reducing mercury supply, use, emissions and exposure," she added.

The regulation has at least ten different application dates, several of which have passed, but others are still in future.

However, when EUobserver asked if the number of deadlines could serve as an explanation for why so few member states have informed the commission of their penalties, German left-wing MEP Stefan Eck said it was no valid excuse.

"It is ironic to insinuate that the number of deadlines would justify the member states' paralysis. They should blame themselves in the first place," Eck told EUobserver in an e-mail.

The German deputy was in charge of steering the regulation through parliament, and conducted negotiations with representatives of the national governments and the commission on the bill's final shape.

He noted that the European Parliament (EP) had wanted fewer and shorter deadlines.

"Nevertheless, one knows that the final versions of new EU legislation is always the result of hard negotiations between the EP and the member states," he said.

"Too many governments, mine included, were too reluctant to impose shorter deadlines on their industries," Eck said. He added that, unsurprisingly, governments had also "lobbied them and DG Growth, as well, heavily," referring to the commission's directorate-general of industry.

"Anyway, since the final outcome was quite in line with what the governments and industry wished them to be, with very realistic deadlines, and since the member states accepted them, they have no excuse at all for not complying," added Eck.

He called on the commission to make sure member states will comply, something the commission can only do by exerting political pressure, or by using a legal tool known as the infringement procedure.

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